Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Devoted Daughter

Waiting was a strategy he utilized frequently. It was a simple enough tactic when he had all of eternity in front of him.
The lavish room was  an opulent visual prop. Chandeliers, priceless artwork and rare books were all details in the picture he wished to paint; that he could own anything he chose to posses.
Including her.
Even after all the years since she had slipped into flesh and bones, she had never grown used to a frantic heartbeat thrumming in her chest. Fear was a learned response that grew like a tumor. The more experience life showed her, the more room it acquired inside of her.
There were no clocks in the room. She could have been waiting hours, or even days. The room lacked windows leaving her no indication of time.
Despite the unfortunate side effects of being human, her sense of entitlement had never dissipated. Regardless of how important her father was, she refused to be diminished to a common minion.
Cerene stomped across a million dollar hand knotted rug and reached the door just in time for it to open.
Her father stood in the doorway and forced her back with only his aura of superiority. His frame was imposing and the gleam in his eyes suggested Cerene was going to do whatever he planned to ask of her.
"You kept me waiting."
He brushed off her tone and consumed the room with his presence. After seating himself in a buttery leather chair, he gestured to the plush seat across from his own. "Please, Cerene. Come sit with me a while and speak with me."
It wasn't a request.
Cerene settled into the chair across from him, straight backed and ankles crossed. Fury licked at the back of her throat, tempting her tongue to spit out unwise words. She held the inside of her lip between her teeth and braced herself.
He cocked his head and grinned at her posture. "You have always amused me, Cerene."
She only narrowed her eyes in response.
"I think we both know that is why I am generous when it comes to your wishes."
Cerene scoffed at the exaggeration. "My wishes?"
"Are you not sitting in front of me made of flesh, possessing a soul and so utterly human as you requested?" He laced his fingers together and rested his elbows on the arms of the chair. "Have you failed to realize the magnanimity of such an offer?"
He was circling like a shark. Cerene had to be careful not to bleed. "I am and I have not."
He sighed and Cerene shivered. "Then if you understand, sweet child why would you fail to uphold your end of the bargain?"
The rapid thrumming in her chest increased to a thumping bass. She knew he could hear it, but he maintained a cool stare.
"Did you forget what was expected of you?"
Cerene shook her head.
"Did you hope I would forget? Or perhaps I wouldn't notice?"
"No, of course not."
He shifted in his seat and studied her face. "I have always been fond of your ability to surprise me. Only this time," he paused and considered his words. "This time I think it is more a feeling of disappointment."
Cerene deflated at the word. Most children disappointed their parents at some point, but few had to fear repercussions that were potentially permanent.
"I'm so sorry," Cerene whispered.
"You know how I feel about apologies, Cerene. As useless to me as tits on a nun. Have you decided to give up this crusade and return to me? You only had to ask."
Cerene shook her head.
"Then why didn't you do as you were expected?"
She inhaled and tried to understand for herself what went wrong. She had seen the girl leave out the backdoor of the strip club. Cerene thought maybe she was doing her a favor. Her emaciated frame was encased in a jaundiced sack of skin. She had braced herself against the back wall while tears streamed down her face and dripped onto the concrete.
Cerese remembered the slippery twist in her chest when she looked at the defeated woman. She wasn't some crooked Wall Street broker or back alley rapist like the previous names.
She was wounded and shattered in every ugly way. It didn't seem right. Cerese had slipped her knife back into its sheath and retreated to the shadows, even though she knew the consequences.
"Answer my question."
"I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I didn't think she deserved it."
He huffed in disgust. "It isn't up to you. It isn't even up to me. You knew the expectations of you when you accepted the gift. I don't negotiate contracts after they have been signed.
"I know."
He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "You say you aren't done yet, but you refuse to do as you are told. I want to know how you plan to make amends." He steepled his fingers under his chin and waited for her response.
Cerene knew how thin the ice was and she needed to tread carefully.  "Did you have something in mind?"
The corner of his mouth lifted with amusement. "You know I always do, but that wasn't the question. "
She considered her options and found none. "Could I be granted another name?"
"You are asking for the previous to be pardoned?"
Cerene pictured the lost soul she had been ordered to deliver. She knew with absolute certainty she could not follow through. "I am asking for her to be spared in the place of another, yes."
"This decision will have consequences."
"I understand."
He rose and headed for his grand desk. A leather bound book rested in the center and flipped open at his request. He eyed her carefully across the room and withdrew a pen from his jacket. "One Harley Marie Campbell has been pardoned. The next name has been delivered."
Cerene felt in her pocket for the wisp of paper that would always appear. She unrolled it and felt her blood rush and her heart sink. "No. Please, no. Any other name, but not this."
His back straightened and face lost any semblance of humor. "Careful, Cerene. My patience with you is stretched as thin as it will go. If anyone else had asked for a pardon on the first name I would have revoked their contract and sentenced them on the spot. Do not mistake my fondness for you as weakness to be manipulated."
Fear nailed her to the floor. There was simply no choice now that wouldn't leave her altered.
"You can of course, choose to reject the name and forfeit you gift." He raised an eyebrow at the small gasp she emitted. "You may want to carefully consider that option. I think the humanity has leaked from your soul and bled into your mind."
She glanced at the name on the paper and fought back tears.
"Twenty four hours, Cerene. Your first deadline has already passed." He crossed the room in a few brisk strides. Before opening the door to leave he glanced over his shoulder. "We will not have this meeting again. Understood?"
Cerene nodded at his blurred form and he left.
When the door latched shut, the ostentatious room shuddered and returned to her small apartment she shared with Michael.
She spread her delicate hands out in front of her and admired the beautiful complexity of her human form. She had grown so attached to the physical and spiritual pieces of her human self. Cerene was even willing to bare the brutality of sorrow, jealousy, and helplessness she had never encountered in her previous form if it meant she could indulge in all that was beautiful.
Especially love.
She crumpled the name in her hand and knew she only had one choice. She sat at the small kitchen table with a piece of paper and pen and drafted a letter.
My Dearest Michael,
I met with my father today. I can't say it went especially well. His house was filled with art deco paintings and smelled faintly of tobacco. It made me wish I were anywhere else, not sitting in that exquisite chair, searching for something to say that would change his mind...

Fade to Black

She was always the invisible one in the family. Nobody noticed her until the day she died.
Ironic? Not really. It is ordinarily how these things go. Life taken for granted. You just expect people to be around because they always were, and then one day they aren’t and your entire world caves in.
Actually, it was more subtle than that. I would have embraced the chaos and shock waves that should have followed in the aftermath. Instead, I got artificial silence carefully constructed whenever I entered a room. It was as fragile as a soap bubble, popping with the slightest whisper or pitiful sigh.
I hated her for what she did.
And then I would hate myself for hating my dead sister for being dead.
I had never treated Amelia as different or a lesser because she shrunk away from people and hid from the world while I danced in the sun and bathed in attention. As twins we were like magnets; opposite charges inevitably drawn together. I let her be who she needed to be and kept eyes away from her and deflected questions that no one had any business asking.
I started to dread all that attention I had once craved. I was suffocated by the inquiries about my welfare in hushed tones like I might shatter like she did. Then they stopped whispering to me and began whispering about me.
My own parents didn’t know what to do with either of us. Amelia was resurrected in our home like a patron saint. Portraits of her hung everywhere and my mother prayed to them like a devout worshiper. I was a puzzle they were missing pieces to. They couldn’t understand how I could continue on when half of me had died.
So I became what they wanted. I de-evolved into the vacant eyed, sorrow laden girl they expected me to be. I turned into Amelia. In return, they treated me like her, giving me a wide berth because they couldn’t handle seeing her ghost.
I grieved for her then I grieved for the pieces of myself that I had to bury with my sister.
And I hated her a little more each day.
She made a choice for both of us that night. A choice I never wanted, but soaked in consequences that only one of us had to endure.
She killed the pain that was inside her, but she also killed the joyful, life filled girl I had been. She was a murderer twice over and I would not pity her when I was the only one that understood how cruel she was.
Another gray Tuesday. Another day of mope, sigh, eye roll, repeat. I passed Mom on the stairs on my way to school. She barely glanced my way. Didn’t bother to ask if I needed money for lunch or why I didn’t carry a backpack full of advanced course books like I did before. It’s amazing the passes you get for having a dead sibling.
I spent my free periods, or even most classes, hiding behind the auditorium.  No one looked for me. They didn’t bother to stop me when I resigned from my throne as Student Body President. Not a single “are you sure?” only lots of “understanding” and “respect” for my decision.
I don’t know how anyone could respect or understand my decisions when I couldn’t begin to rationalize what was happening to me.
“So this is where the mighty go when they have fallen.”
My head snapped to the direction of the voice.  Rick Chaconne stood over me with a smug grin and a pack of cigarettes.  He popped up one of the cancer sticks with a flick of the wrist and held the pack out as an offering.
I could only glare at him for being arrogant enough to disregard my super power of invisibility. He retracted his arm and helped himself to the smoke. “Aren’t you supposed to be prepping for an AP exam, or feeding orphans or some shit?”
I decided ignoring him was my only weapon. I returned to counting squares of concrete that composed the sidewalk around the building.
“Ah, so it’s like that? Still too good to socialize with the low life population of the school? Then tell me princess, what are you doing everyday hiding out in my ditch spot? ” He laughed to himself and took a long drag off his cigarette. “I mean, you aren’t even bothering to do anything worthy of my hiding place. You could sit and mope anywhere.”
“I’m not moping.” The words spat from my mouth before I considered them.
Rick grinned at his small victory. “Do you prefer sulking? Throwing a pity party? Another term, perhaps?”
An indignant huff compressed my chest and escaped my lips. “My sister killed herself.”
He only raised an eyebrow. “So?”
So? Didn’t he realize that was everything? “My sister. Killed herself. Dead.”
“What does that have to do with your foray into the darkside?”
“What the hell are you talking about? I tell you my sister commits suicide and you act like she borrowed a shirt and forgot to return it.”
Rick sighed and stubbed out the cigarette. “I’m not saying it doesn’t suck. I just don’t understand what that has to do with you now.”
An horrible familiar sensation of tears filled my eyes. “It has everything to do with me. Nothing is the same.”
“Didn’t you decide to change most of it yourself?”
“You don’t know anything.” I was terrified he actually might. Why was he still talking? He wasn’t supposed to even see me, but he kept pressing on bruised memories and tender subjects like a sadist.
“No one made you turn in your title of Campus Princess. Nobody chased you out of all your clubs and roles. Rumor has it you broke up with Trevor Wilson not the other way around, so from where I sit, you have decided to be exactly where you are. Sitting behind a building, hiding from school authority and smoking with a known degenerate.”
He lit another cigarette and I couldn’t resist inhaling the acrid smoke. He noticed and offered it to me. This time I took it, but only so he would stop calling me princess.
“So, what’s the real deal, Princess?”
“Smart, pretty, popular girls don’t just wake up one day and decide to tell the world to go to hell. Amelia would be pissed at you.”
“Don’t say her name.”
He shrugged, not intimidated or sorry. “It doesn’t make her any less dead, and it doesn’t bring her back. Neither does dressing like her,” he added as he flipped the hood of my sweatshirt.
My jaw had clenched tight enough to crack molars. “I’m not dressing like her and don’t say her name.”
“Alright, Princess. Have it your way.” He rested back against the wall, but he was still too close.
I didn’t want to move away and let him know he bothered me. He didn’t seem to care that he was breaking all the rules. He was looking at me, talking to me and even saying her name.
“Just one question. How much longer until you decide to take after her completely and I have to go to a second funeral?”
The delicate stick in my hand snapped at the filter and sent flakes of tobacco and sparks in a flurry down the sidewalk. “Stop it. Stop it! STOP! I’m not like her!”
My own words punched me in the face. I wasn’t like her and yet I was exactly like her in every way that mattered. I had let the world get inside me and hurt me enough that all I wanted to do was keep it out.
I had only wanted to be invisible until everyone stopped looking at me like the girl with the dead sister, but there was no other option.
“I’m not like her,” I whispered to confirm the concept.
He smiled without the nasty sneer to his lip and lit a new cigarette to replace the one I broke. “No, Princess. You’re not, and that’s not such a bad thing.”

Monday, June 30, 2014

Electronic Sunrise

"I'm going up!" Aderyn called down the narrow hall.

"Check your gauges. No half tanks," her father's voice rumbled back. He limped the short trek into their common room. "And no scenic routes."

"I know, I know." She pulled her respirator off the wall and detached it from the refill hose. "It's on full. No reason to worry unless I'm not back in six hours."

"I don't find your jokes funny."

Aderyn fitted the respirator straps over her shoulders and balanced the mask on her head. "Stop worrying so much, Dad. I won't be long." She reassured herself by patting the gun strapped to her thigh.

The weapon was hidden under the long trench coat she always wore when venturing out, but her father noticed the gesture and shook his head. "Times like this I miss take out."

"Take out?"

"You used to be able to call a restaurant and order food that some delivery driver brought right to your home." He sighed. "I'd pay the biggest tip of my life for some pad thai right about now."

"Forty-three has something like that. Not an actual person, but you can order off the command menu and food shoots through some tube system to your pod." Aderyn pulled on gloves and tucked her braid into the heavy hood attached to her coat. "That would be pretty great wouldn't it?"

Her father snorted at the idea. "Not if it's that dehydrated crap they serve up when only rations are available." He looked his daughter up and down. The creases on his forehead etched deeper and his shoulders fell. "But if it meant you didn't have to go out there anymore, I guess it wouldn't be so bad."

"I like it up there. I get to see the sun."

"You see a giant recording of the sun on a television screen. They haven't broadcast a new sunrise in years. I doubt the cameras can even see it anymore." His ornery mood was worse than usual so Aderyn turned on the television to distract him and directed him to his shabby chair.

"Just find something to watch and I'll be back before you know it." She reached for the latch on the exit door, but stopped to check her pocket for the small vial tucked inside.

He grunted and pointed at the screen. "Can you believe this place?"

"What place?" Aderyn glanced back at the screen and gasped. "That can't be real, is it?"

A commercial for the newest completed development played out on the screen. A silky woman's voice described the lush garden and park centered among the living quarters. Real live trees grew several stories high surrounded by vibrant green grass and flowering shrubs. The narrator went on to explain the occurrence of rain that fell from the top story and traveled to the park below. Children splashed in puddles as a young couple rushed by, shielding themselves from the drops.

"Number Eighty-Nine boasts beautiful living accommodations with holographic balconies available on every other level and the only development to offer accurate seasonal light times through the entire complex. Come to Eighty-Nine and live as you were meant to live."

The screen dimmed before lighting up with an old sitcom. Aderyn couldn't decide if it was more realistic than Number Eighty- Nine. "Do you think they really built that?"

Her father shrugged, his eyes glassy and still latched to the screen. "Guess folks like us will never know for sure, will we? This is how we were meant to live."

Aderyn glanced around at the small pod they considered home and noted how sterile it felt compared to the luxurious quarters that had splashed across the television screen moments before. Her fingers twitched against the vial in her pocket. She huffed out a good-bye to her father and slipped out the door.

She traversed the long hallway of identical doors, each housing another unfortunate family. Aderyn tried to replace the images of Eighty-Nine's graceful balconies with the cold practicality of Twenty-Two's. This was her reality, her life. A rapidly constructed multi level shack to shelter the as many people as quickly as possible. Amenities and luxury were not considered during the build. There was no rain in her world and the only park she knew consisted of packed dirt and stone benches where she sat to watch the sunrise on a giant screen.

Eighty-Nine was nothing more than a cruel fantasy. Someone's sick idea of a joke.

Aderyn positioned her mask over her mouth and tightened the straps before pulling down her tinted goggles. She braced her weight against the outer door and forced it open against the wind just wide enough to slip out onto the catwalk before it slammed behind her. She jogged down the caged in walk to the lift and hid from the gusts in the small alcove around the lift doors. She pulled the lever and the simple box descended from a few flights above with rattles and groans.

When she climbed inside and pulled the doors shut, Lorella pictured indoor, elaborate elevators that slid between floors existed somewhere in the world where people like her didn't belong. Instead, she gripped railing and braced for the abrupt slamming halt when she reached the ground. One day she was sure the box of death was just going to forget to stop and plunge through the ground.

The gale force winds up above were no more than a whisper on the ground. It did nothing to clear the permanent haze from the air that restricted her vision to several feet in any direction, but she knew the way to the park in the worst conditions.

The train rumbled over her head through the dark morning. She would need to be on it herself in a few hours to go into work. It was meaningless, but her father couldn't work so she stuck with it to feed them both. She also knew she was fortunate to have landed a job indoors and far less dangerous than most labor positions available.

The subtle hum of the giant screen let her know she had entered the park. Her feet followed the packed path to a circle of benches. It was all so routine, she didn't hear a second respirator until a figure manifested through the haze. 

She unbuttoned her coat and rested her hand on the butt of her gun. The figure didn't move or acknowledge her approach. She made her way to another bench, the weight of her gun reassuring her as she eased onto the stone seat.

Her companion sat on his own bench, stoic and waiting for the sunrise. Aderyn hadn't seen another person wait for the sunrise in months. It was a non event considering the hazy air held in reflected light along with poison. Night was only a reference to the hands of a clock, not a change in the sky.

Aderyn stilled and listened to the hum of the screen and rhythmic rasp of her companion's respirator. The hypnotic repetition soothed the anxiety she had been battling since leaving work the day before. She slipped her hand around the vial in her pocket, reassuring herself again that it was intact.

She closed her eyes and focused on drawing stale breaths of canned air. She wondered what trees smelled like in the rain.

"I didn't think you smiled like that unless I was around."

Aderyn jumped at the interruption. A reflective mask shaped with haunting, empty features stared at her. She pressed her forehead against the mask's and could see Sin's eyes crinkled with a smile on the other side. "It isn't nice to sneak up on people." She pressed her leg against his reminding him of the piece she always carried. "Or very smart."

"I would have stripped you of your gun and your can before you ever knew I was here." Sin held her face and shook his own with disappointment. "You promised you would be more careful."

"I'm always careful," Aderyn snapped as she smacked his hands away."I could hear a normal tank miles away. No one around Twenty-Two has your fancy ninja gear." She flicked the nose of his eerie mask.

He peered around her at the man on the other bench. "You have company this morning."

"I don't think he even knows I'm here. Hasn't moved at all."

"All the same," he pulled her arm to stand. "We should probably get out of here."

"Can we wait until sunrise?"

Sin's shoulders fell, but sat down again. "If it will make you smile, Eryn." He threaded their fingers together and she leaned against his arm.

"Should be any minute." She spotted a large bag at Sin's feet. "What's that all about? You have a delivery of your own to make?"

"No, that's your groceries you are supposed to be out shopping for."

"Oh," was the only response she could manage as the guilt of lying to her father seeped into her throat with a bitter taste. She had the best intentions. She was going to make life better for both of them. She would keep repeating that until it was true.

"Forty-Three had strawberries," Sin said, trying to pull her back.

"Strawberries? Actual berries?"

He laughed at the excitement she was trying to contain. "Don't get too worked up. Their dry soil program is still new, but coming along. They are pretty sad little strawberries, but they're real. And I got you a few."

Aderyn sighed and imagined the sweet juices of fresh fruit. Her taste buds would go into shock. "Do you think they have a dry soil program in Eighty-Nine?"

"Eighty-Nine? I imagine they just get the other projects to do the work for them and those rich bastards relax in their hologram rooms and feast on the results." He angled to look around her hood at her face. "Why the curiosity about Eighty-Nine?"

Aderyn shrugged, feeling foolish for mentioning it at all.

"It's a wild place. Beautiful. I don't blame you for thinking about it."

Aderyn didn't respond. The hazy air began to glow pink with the beginning of sunrise bathing the pair and their odd companion with a surreal beauty. This was why she watched the sunrise each day. It was only a few moments, but in that space she wasn't a prisoner to a toxic world.

Her serenity was interrupted when the other visitor rose to his feet. She watched in horror as he removed his mask, tears reflecting the soft golden light.

She was paralyzed, even as Sin swore over her shoulder when he witnessed the same.

In the growing light, Aderyn realized the man wore no coat or gloves to protect him from the poisoned air of abrasive winds filled with sand. He stood before the electronic sun, exposed and gasping through tears before collapsing.

She felt her own body shake in response to the body twitching on the ground. Sin pulled her to her feet, trying to distance them from the scene. She couldn't look away and stumbled twice before Sin stopped them and grabbed her face. "Don't think about him. People get lost. They can't find their way back or figure out how to make things better so they give up. You couldn't have saved him."

She nodded to acknowledge his words, but the tremors rattled her teeth. Sin pulled her into his arms and held her tight until the shaking subsided. Unfortunately, her body decided to move onto tears.

"Hey, hey don't do that." The gentle tone of his voice only encouraged a sob. "Eryn, my sweet Eryn. Close your eyes."

She obeyed and felt her goggles pull away for a moment as Sin brushed away her tears. "You've never watched someone die."

"Of course not!" Aderyn drew in a jagged breath and shook her hands as if they held the memory.

"The first one is always the hardest," Sin answered.

Aderyn retreated a step. Her mind flooded with questions and jammed together before any could reach her tongue. Sin never told her exactly what he did or how he knew this man after the vial in her pocket. She shivered again wishing she had bothered to ask more questions.

"Eryn," his voice warned. "It's still me. You never have to be afraid of me. I keep you safe, remember?" He held out his hand for her to take.

She stared back at the blank mask patiently waiting for her. A man was dead in the park behind her, a stolen secret was in her pocket and her father waited at home for her to return with a decent meal. She thought of Eighty-Nine with its rain and trees and the taste of fruit.

Aderyn took his hand.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014


I keep to the murky shadows, out of the reach of the sunlight. My toes find cold mud beneath them, over and over and over again. The cadence is constant and will never relent until I can find my way to freedom.

Sound has no meaning here. Its value is irrelevant to me regardless since I can no longer speak. Time exists only to remind me the world continues on day after day without my permission. The sun and moon change guard over me and keep me company. They remain impassive and only concerned with their duties. A lost girl means nothing in their great expanse.

Some might call me a victim.

I prefer the term prisoner. Held here against my will, serving a sentence for the crimes of being young, truant and smart-mouthed. Unforgivable sins according to my warden.

Or perhaps I was only a girl and that was enough.

I see him now and again. I watch him pass by on the other side of watery bars. Looking at me, but never seeing my wasting form. I think he finds comfort knowing I am still hidden from the world and his secret to keep to himself.

We all have secrets to keep hidden, some are just darker than others.

I will remain his captive until time decides to set me free.

Then there will be no place to hide because I can't wait to share my secrets.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Bitterness, on the Rocks

Women have a powerful way of wounding each other. Where men use fists, women wield words like barbed weapons. Sticks and stones are nothing compared to a full fledged verbal assault.

Every last word ever used to injure her came back to Stephanie when she spotted Kendal across the rented ballroom space.

She had dreaded this moment. When the email inviting her to her ten year high school reunion, Stephanie's lunch had threatened to make a second appearance. Graduation had been the end of a twelve year prison sentence.

Kendal had served as warden.

It started off with the era of Stinky Steph. She had the misfortune of stepping in dog poop at the bus stop one morning. For years after, kids would walk by her holding their noses and chanting "Stinky Steph, Stinky Steph!".  She knew she didn't stink, but caught herself checking the bottoms of her shoes and sniffing her arm pits when no one was watching. 

If you hear a lie enough times, you start to wonder if it is actually the truth. 

Middle school was a particularly special circle of hell. The awkwardness of puberty provided a plethora of taunts. Stephanie never knew what would be taped to her locker each day, only that she could expect an artistic display of maxi pads or coupons for yeast infection cream for all the school to witness. 

She learned years before not to cry. 

High school could have been worse, but it was far from a John Hughes movie. There were more people to hide among and rarely used bathrooms tucked away in forgotten spaces that provided a sacred space. 

A few other casualties of Kendal's war had become her friends. Stephanie was in awe of their self assurance. They stopped caring what rumor had been started about them. Kendal always knew where to press. She was like a dog, able to smell the festering wounds left on Stephanie's soul. 

The years had introduced her to the full spectrum of pain. Every shade from blinding, hot white to the cold despair of black. It had muted over the years to a softer grey like the fading shades of a deep bruise. 

The invite to the reunion had resurrected it all in a hateful flurry of red. 

Kendal laughed at something and flashed rows of perfect teeth.  Stephanie always thought Kendal's smile was too wide. People called it a toothpaste smile. Stephanie knew it as a predator's grin. 

"There's about two hundred people here, at least." Aaron's voice snapped Stephanie from her trance. "We can just avoid her."

Stephanie rubbed her thumb over the USB stick in her pocket. "No. I need to talk to her. Just for a minute." She gave him a genuine smile. "Face your fears kinda thing. No biggie."

"If you're sure," he conceded, not sounding sure at all. 

She squeezed his hand in an effort to reassure him. Aaron knew personally how venomous Kendal's bite could be. He bared his own scars, even though he hid them well. 

With a deep breath for courage, Stephanie fought every flight instinct and pressed her way to Kendal. 

She recoiled when Kendal greeted her with a warm hello and offered her hand. "I'm sorry, I don't think I remember you."

The response was like an icy fist through the chest. She had braced herself for insults or awkward feigned politeness, but this? This was more insulting than any name or rumor. 

She had spent most of her life with Kendal at the center. A sadistic ringmaster in a circus of misery that couldn't be bothered to remember Stephanie long enough to regret anything. 

"Stehanie? Stephanie Jones?"

Confusion wrinkled Kendal's nose for a brief moment. Stephanie noticed the exact moment recognition struck her in the gut. 

"Oh!" Her surgically enhanced lips formed a perfect O as her eyes widened. "Hey. So, I was hoping to see you."

Another unexpected response Stephanie had not prepared for.

"I know I was kind of a bitch back then...,"

"Kind of?"

Kendal tried to cover her nerves with a laugh. "Okay, more than kind of. It wasn't anything you did or deserved. I wanted to apologize. Maybe we could both move on." She smiled expectantly, proud she managed her speech. 

Stephanie tried to breathe. Forgiveness had crossed her mind once or twice while reading sappy quotes about poisoning yourself with hate. She always overcame the urge to let it all go. 

When her apology was met with a silent stare, Kendal trudged on. "I don't expect us to become best friends or anything, I just hope you could consider it. I went through some shit and handled it poorly."

Kendal shuffled nervously until a waiter stopped by with a drink. She affixed her wide grin and thanked him, more for the interruption than the girlie drink. "So, um it's weird to see everyone all grown up, huh?"

Stephanie shook her head. What sort of deranged plane of existence had they slipped into where Kendal Martin attempted small talk with her?

"I mean, look at him. He grew up nicely, don't you think?"

Stephanie followed Kendal's gaze right to Aaron. The icy pit in her chest melted into a quiet rage that had smoldered for years. "Yup, he sure did." Her fingers grazed the stick in her pocket and renewed her purpose for coming to this fiasco. "You know, I've been working as an IT specialist for a while. Do you know what that involves?"

Kendal smiled like a beauty pageant queen. "Computers?"

"Uh, well yes. But more specifically, I listen to people bitch about errors and problems and fix issues before they stop operations. I also get to block lots and lots of porn."

Kendal's mouth fell open and she leaned in like she wanted to share a secret. "At work? People look at that stuff at the office?"

"Oh yes. I'm pretty immune to most stuff. But one day, I stopped cold when I recognized someone."

"No way! Like someone famous?"

"No, just someone I knew. Nothing special, really. Just some dumb girl trying to impress the guy she was with by agreeing to put their encounter on film. He's an NFL player, so she was probably wanting to get her claws in deep."

Kendal's face drained to the color of ash. All remnants of her commercial smile gone. 

"Guess it found it's way onto the Internet, but it's a pretty remote site. And he isn't a big enough name to really cause a scandal. But the faces are incredibly clear." Stephanie pulled the eight gigs of vengeance from her pocket and held it out to Kendal. "How's your Dad, by the way? He's up for re-election this year, isn't he?"

Stephanie savored the small whimper Kendal emitted. "What do you want?" it was a whisper, but it was resigned. Stephanie knew she could have anything and Kendal would steal or kill to get it. 

"I want you to find a way to make everything up to me," she took the sweaty drink from Kendal's clutched hand. "I'm sure you'll figure something out."

She left her there, frozen in a puddle of dread. Stephanie made her way back to Aaron sipping on the sweet drink flavored with cherries and victory. 

It tasted like happiness.

This weeks prompt was brought to you by the color of pain and the taste of happiness. Now onto Watermelon Kisses by Denise.

I seriously want some watermelon now.

Thanks for reading our double prompt journey. Maybe I can convince Denise to do it again someday.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Suits, Cigars and Sonnets

That stupid ashtray. I had held it together until I saw that lumpy piece of painted clay sitting on his desk. He had kept my hideous childhood art for nearly thirty years. It wasn't even dusty or filled with paper clips or some other useful item.

It sat on his desk like an object of reverence and knocked a fatal hole in the wall I had built against my grief. I dashed away the tears on my cheeks before Mom could see them. She was hardly holding it together as it was and probably for my sake.

"I, uh...I think this one could work." I pulled the photograph out from behind its cellophane cover and handed it to Mom.

"Oh, yes," Mom whispered and traced her finger along the edge of the picture. "This was taken at that benefit we attended with..ah...what were their names?"

"The Andersons," I filled in for her.

"The Andersons," she mumbled.

I flipped through more pages of the ratty photo album trying to find enough pictures to satisfy Mom so I could get out of here and curl up at home with a strong drink. His house was filled with art deco paintings and smelled faintly of tobacco. It made me wish I were anywhere else, not sitting in that exquisite chair, searching for something to say. There was nothing I could say to fill the hole in Mom's heart.

"Do you think you could look through his desk for me?" Mom's voice was small in the overstated room.

I needed this to be over. I needed my mother's joyous tone and vibrant smile back.

"What do you need, Mom?"

"A book. Well, a journal. Small with a black cover."

I pulled out drawers, ignoring the pens, clips and notepads that had been rendered useless without an owner. I didn't want to think about needing to clean out all the mundane pieces of his life that made him a functioning, normal person. The kitchen alone would be hell.

Tucked away between two file folders was the mysterious journal. Before I could even confirm if it was what she was after, Mom gasped when she caught sight of it.

Her eyes shined with unshed tears and her chin puckered while holding in a fresh wave of sorrow. I reached across the desk and placed it in her trembling hand. "He kept it. I knew he kept it."

"What is it?" I immediately wanted the words back in my mouth. That little book was only going to open wounds I was holding together with a fine thread of strength.


"Poetry?" I couldn't imagine my hard ass father reading poetry.

Mom hugged the book to her chest and the first genuine smile I had seen in days warmed her face. "I wrote them. Not for him, not at first anyway. I caught him with one of my books one night, but I never said anything. I just kept writing them. Filling the pages until they ran out. When this book disappeared, I didn't look for it. I knew where it was."

If anyone else had told me that story, I would have laughed and congratulated them on the joke. Anyone who had met my father knew him as a cigar smoking, stock market magician with a lifetime membership to the good old boys club.

But my mother. She was everything his wife shouldn't have been: free spirited, soft-hearted and so damn happy. Just the sight of her eased the etched lines in his forehead and relaxed his shoulders from their constant state of attention.

The most wonderful lesson my parents had taught me was that true love existed.

Unfortunately, I also learned that the loss of one half of that perfect pairing devastates the other.

Mom stared blankly out the window, lost in her memories. She didn't even open the book, just held it like a fragile china doll. I knew then that a piece of her died with my father three days ago.

This was one of those awful life events that altered your world forever. If I ever got married and had children, they wouldn't know my dad. They would never see my mom as I had. She wouldn't be the same without that spark in her eye that he put there.

I shook off the pity party. Mom didn't need that on her right now. She could only put one foot in front of the other and count how many minutes had passed since she last saw him.

"Mom, I need to make a few more calls and, ...um..." I couldn't say it. I couldn't tell her I needed to choose  a suit to take to the funeral home for Dad. The lump in my throat kept the words trapped.

How the hell did I become the responsible adult in this equation? That was Dad's job.

"The charcoal gray."

My head snapped up at the certain tone in Mom's voice. "What?"

"His suit. The charcoal gray. With a black shirt and tie." She smiled again, but without the light in her eyes. "I always thought he looked so handsome in it." She let out a small laugh. "He wore it when he knew he had pissed me off. He knew what I thought of that suit and that I couldn't resist looking at him while he wore it."

The smile, the laughter. It wasn't the same and it might not ever be again, but it was more than I had hoped for. My own smile answered in return.

"Okay, Mom." I picked up the earlier agreed upon photo. "Charcoal gray it is."

And now onto the second showing of our double feature. Head on over to Denise's blog and check out her story from the prompt in bold.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


She was always the invisible one in the family. Nobody noticed her until the day she dropped her grandmother's serving dish full of mashed potatoes on the dining room floor.

A collective gasp filled the room following the sound of shattered porcelain. Jenna didn't even register the broken dish. She couldn't think of anything beyond the words she had just heard from her father.

"We're moving?" she whispered.

Her father redirected his attention from the mess on the floor and flinched as if surprised Jenna had spoken. His eyes softened with pity for just a moment before returning to their bored stare. "Your mother and I decided years ago we would sell the house one day. We don't need all this now that all you kids are adults."

Jenna shook her head, mouth open in shock that they seem to be overlooking one important fact. "But, I live here."

His shoulders lifted with a familiar heavy sigh he reserved only for Jenna. "We will most likely find a place with more than one bedroom."

Her brain stuttered at the phrase "most likely" and her lungs were having trouble remembering their purpose.

"There is another option, sweetheart," her mother countered near her feet where she was wiping up the remnants of the side dish. "We could help you look for a place. Would you like that?"

Her mother spoke to her in the same voice since she was five, like she was coaxing a scared animal out of a hiding place. It constantly reminded Jenna that when they did bother to see her, she was parted out from her siblings.

Jenna slid into her seat at the table and forced back tears that would only add to her embarrassment.

Her oldest sister Macy rolled her eyes at the entire scene. She had never had patience for Jenna. Things worked they way Macy demanded they work in her world and Jenna never fell into line. She shifted her infant in her arms and spooned more peas onto her toddler's plate. Not a hair out of place on any of them and she made it look easy.

Her other sister, Angela,  watched Jenna's anxiety with the same careful pity their mother constantly exuded.

"You could stay with me if you wanted," Angela offered while patting Jenna's hand.

Encouraging mummers filtered around the table. None of them could imagine that Angela's offer was nothing but generous when in fact it was the definition of everything that terrified Jenna. An apartment in the city, surrounded by countless strange faces and constant offensive noises. Jenna minded her manners and forced a tight smile and a non committal shrug hoping the suggestion would pass without further discussion.

Her wish was granted as her father redirected conversation to Macy and whatever fantastic new promotion her overachieving husband had recently obtained. Jenna faded into the background, just another piece of nondescript furniture in the room.

She filled her silent roll expertly and avoided any further attention other than the occasional glance from her mother or Angela. She knew they only meant good intentions, but she was tired of their intentions. They only further exploited the fact that she wasn't an overachieving perfectionist like Macy or an artistic prodigy like Angela.

Thankfully, she never felt compared to her brother Drake who proved from the time he could walk that he was destined to be a spectacular athlete. Maybe because Drake ignored all his sisters equally. Jenna wondered if he could even tell them apart for as much attention he spent on any of them.

Drake had stunned all of them when junior year of college he announced he dropping out and going into construction. Their lawyer father didn't see any sense to throwing away a college education on such a lowly profession. Drake had only shrugged and said he was tired of people waiting for him to fail on the field and just wanted to build things. That was when Jenna decided Drake was her favorite sibling.

Jenna excelled at being the family freak. She rarely made friends, and even then they were hardly more than acquaintances. She had difficulty keeping up conversations because her responses were never what people considered normal. She was too quiet to be quirky, too plain to be mysterious.

The rest of the meal passed uneventfully and Jenna raced up to the sanctuary of her bedroom while her parents helped Macy pack up her kids to go home.

She loathed Sunday family dinner. Her parents let her be most of the remainder of the week. Her mom stopped asking her if she was seeing anyone or going out with friends. They both knew that it was only out of courtesy she even asked to begin with.

Jenna knew it wasn't normal to live at home at the age of twenty four with no plans to venture on her own. She was comfortable in this space compared to the rest of the world that felt so abrasive. She finished high school and went to community college just so her parents couldn't complain she didn't at least try. She worked at a nearby bookstore where people only wanted to talk to her about books. She could manage that conversation, and once in a while was enthusiastic about a particular novel or subject.

Books had been her constant. They never demanded anything from her and conversations were fairly one sided. Every lunch period during her school years was spent hiding around a building and reading. The only time she conflicted with her parents was when her light was on too late at night because she was forever asking to stay up for just one more chapter.

Then one birthday they gave her a telescope.

She didn't need a lamp to scan the stars and she slept even less.

Jenna knew every inch of sky she could see from her bedroom window. Moving meant losing that piece of the sky. If it was too bright, she might never see some of her favorite stars again.

The fear that had sat in her chest through dinner slowly warmed to a burning anger. It wasn't fair that Jenna's flaws were the only ones that were looked down on. Angela was flaky and forgetful, but no one harped on her because she was artistic and it was part of who she was. Macy seemed perfect, but the pill bottles Jenna had spotted once in her purse suggested otherwise.

There was a soft knock on her bedroom door before it slowly opened. Drake leaned against the door frame, but didn't step inside her space.

"I was thinking, my place is only like five minutes from here. It's only a two bedroom I got real cheap because I'm doing a lot of the remodeling myself, but you can crash in the extra room if you want."

He glanced at her swollen bookcase overrun with a miniature library.

"I just added new built-ins to the living room and they look kinda sad and empty. Your books won't be falling all over the floor or stuffed up in your closet." He shifted his weight and knocked on the door frame. "No big deal. Whatever you want to do. I'm not going anywhere anytime soon."

He flashed his Drake smile at her that always got him out of detention and made girls giggle. "Oh, and the last owners must have had kids or something. They have this massive tree house out back that I bet your telescope would fit in. Later, Jenna."

He didn't wait around to pressure her for any kind of answer. Just left his offer at her door for her to pick up or discard.

Tears filled her eyes and spilled before she could stop them, but she couldn't prevent the smile that came with them this time. Gratitude warmed through her body and relief lifted the rock off her chest.

Someone didn't pretend she was invisible. One person didn't see her as broken or wrong or bothersome.

She was just Jenna to Drake.

It was all she ever wanted to be to anyone.

And here is the link to Denise's story using the same prompt.

See you next week!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Was it Worth it?

Remember I did that crazy writing thing back in November? In case you missed the parade I threw for myself: I pulled it off.

And then I needed about six weeks to recover.

Seriously. I didn't write another word until just a few days ago. (Of course, it doesn't help that December follows the writing marathon from hell.) The weird thing is, it was participating in NaNo that made me sit my butt down and write something after opening multiple blank word documents that never received so much as a choice of font.

The most important thing I think I learned from that month is that even though I love writing, sometimes I really don't want to do it. Then I feed myself excuses as to why I can do it the next day, then put it off another day and the next thing I know it's been six weeks and I have accomplished NOTHING.

With NaNo, you don't have a choice. I took 2 nights off during the month because *cue whiny voice* "I didn't wanna write" and I regretted it when I was racing to catch back up on my word count over the next three days.

I feel like I've spent my entire adult life slacking off then stressing out to meet deadlines, and I'm over it.

NaNo gave me 50 thousand words towards a story, but it also taught me that writing isn't always fun. Some days I won't be inspired. Some days I will be mentally exhausted. And now and again, I will write total crap that should never be viewed by anyone. All that matters is that I keep moving forward.

On more than one occasion, I was asked "Do we get to read what you write this month?"

I didn't expect that question. No joke. It freaked me out. Especially when I realized that writing without any editing process resulted in some astoundingly bad stuff. However, it wasn't all terrible and under the rubble there is actually some decent bones to work with and a few parts that will survive the word cull.

So yes, you get to read it. Well a little piece of it. Hopefully one day it is ready to wear the daunting title of "completed manuscript" or "published novel".

That long winded introduction is for this short excerpt from my NaNo disaster/accomplishment.

The dusky sky was purple and darkening like a bruise. Streetlights buzzed to life as the light in the sky waned. The sun was still perched above the horizon, holding onto the last moment of the day.
Ava watched the corner of the street expectantly. Any moment his car could turn the corner. She has waited so patiently for him to not let her down. He always came back, no matter how bad the fight had been, regardless of the crazed and terrible things their mother said, he always came back.
The front door creaked open, but she refused to glance away from her post. She listened vaguely for the sound of footsteps behind her to determine which sister had come to join her on the porch steps.
The slap slap slap of bare feet against the concrete and faint aroma of maple syrup from that morning’s breakfast assured her it was her youngest sibling, Gwen. She wasn’t surprised. Gwen was never too far away for too long.
She parked herself next to Ava and stared off into the same direction. “When’s Daddy going to be home?” she asked with the innocence of a five year old.
“Soon,” Ava answered. She ignored the small nag in the back of her mind that told her she shouldn’t lie to her little sister.
“Ava, I’m hungry. Can Mommy make dinner now?”
Ava inhaled a dose of patience as a small fire burned in her chest. “Don’t bother Mom. I’ll make you something in a few minutes.”
“But I’m really hungry,” Gwen whined.
“I said in a minute!” Ava snapped, immediately regretting her tone.
Gwen shrunk into herself for a moment. She quickly recovered and looked up to the sky. “Look how pretty!”
Ava didn’t want to look. She knew the brilliant colors of twilight meant the sun was nearly gone, along with her hope that her father would be home soon.
They kept their vigil on the porch, Gwen watching the sky and Ava staring at the street corner.
“Please,” Ava whispered.
He always came home.
“Goodnight, sun!” Gwen announced with a small wave. “Now can we eat?” She broke Ava’s stare with her large, blue eyes.
Ava couldn’t speak. She simply nodded and ushered Gwen inside. She looked back once more over her shoulder hoping it would be the exact moment headlights appeared to turn down their street.
The darkness only stared back and she followed Gwen into the house.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

How to Keep a Secret

His chest began to burn for oxygen.

There was a delay.

Jacob tried to abate his panic with a reminder that the audience loved the tension. The ballet he danced with death sold tickets to his shows over and over again.

His lungs heaved, desperate for a breath. He was seconds away from his body overruling his brain and slurping water in a futile attempt to relieve the pressure in his chest.

Then he heard the click and watched the first padlock spring open. Relief stilled his bound, shaking hands. A chain reaction sprang to life popping open lock after lock and loosening the chains that kept him weighted under the water.

One lock remained before he could swim for the surface.

He stared at the shackle around his ankle that remained securely bolted to the floor. His vision was interrupted and distorted by inky blots. For a brief moment, he wondered if this was how she felt.

He jerked and pulled against the shackle, panic overwhelming his senses.

The lock sprang free and he bolted for the surface, his lungs screaming for air.

The crowd shrieked with delight when he broke the surface of the pool. The tense atmosphere dissipated with their elation and appraisal. He soaked in their applause while a faceless assistant draped him in a robe and handed him a towel.

He flashed a veneered smile before thanking their cheers with a swooping bow as the curtain fell.

Jacob dropped his showman demeanor and stormed off the stage.

An overzealous stage hand rushed to follow his soggy steps. "There is a full room for autographs tonight..."

He whirled around on the stage hand, teeth bared like a predator. "Does it look like I'm going to sign anything right now?" He swiped the towel across his face and rubbed his hair before tossing it at the stunned hand.

"But...but you have to," was all he could manage.

Jacob narrowed his eyes and snorted. "No. No, I really don't." As he headed towards the private elevator that would take him to his floor, he heard the frantic stage hand narrating their encounter to another equally frantic handler somewhere in the building.

His fury didn't calm during the ride up or while he crossed the posh private lobby to his front door that he flung open.

He inhaled slowly several times, needing to calm himself or he would never know if tonight was just a miscalculation.

"Penny?" he called out into the darkness. The edge had left his voice, but his hands remained clenched holding his anger in balled fists willing to be wielded as weapons.

Jacob didn't bother with turning on a light. The gaudy neon of the strip kept his penthouse room illuminated. He once thought it was fascinating the way the room glowed purple from the constant pulse of life outside the windows.

Now it reminded him of cheap liquor and stale smoke and defeated dreams that died in seedy bars.

"Penny? Where are you hiding?" He wanted to ask why she was hiding, but he wasn't sure he was ready for that answer.

The sparkle of red sequins flickered against the false light.

"Darling, come over here so I can see your face."

Penny stepped out of the shadows. She was striking as always. Her curves were just enough to make a red sequined dress classy when it could have read as cheap. Her large blue eyes lacked their normal vibrancy and her lips were set in a stern line.

Jacob assessed his assistant carefully before choosing his words. "Tonight was interesting."

She raised an eyebrow and nodded slowly.

Jacob chuckled and helped himself to a healthy dose of scotch before his next question. "An illusionist is only as good as his assistant, and I've got the greatest damn assistant in the world." He raised his glass in salute to Penny and finished the last slug. "So explain something to me, greatest assistant in the world."

His eyes hardened and his knuckles turned white from his grip on the glass. "Why did the fucking locks take so long to open tonight?" His voice remained level, disturbingly calm.

Slowly, a smile snaked across Penny's perfectly shaped mouth. "Accidents happen."

She didn't bother flinching as the scotch glass sailed past her head and shattered on the wall behind her. She knew he couldn't really hurt her. Not anymore.

Jacob left Penny and the shards of glass to themselves while he changed into dry clothes. She was still standing in the same location when he made his way for the front door.

As he reached for the handle, the tumblers in the locks fell into place.

"Open the damn door, Penny," he commanded through clenched teeth.

"How did it feel?"

"How did what feel?" His hand remained on the door handle. He refused to meet her eyes that had transcended into something cold and menacing.

"Knowing you were on the brink of death?" She was taunting him. "Fighting for just a few more seconds of life, your lungs on fire and screaming for a breath? Your vision blacking out? Trying to ignore the panic that your hands are bound too tight to signal for help. The terror that clawed at your insides knowing you were about to die?"

He heard the accusations in her tone, but she didn't know anything. It was just an accident.

"I wasn't afraid," Jacob lied.

"Why is that?"

"I knew I could count on you. You would never let anything happen to me," he lied again.

Penny let out a small laugh. "I used to believe the same."

The lock clicked open and Jacob pulled the door open before she could change her mind.

His manager had just stepped out of the elevator into the lobby. Jacob sighed. He should have known the blubbering stage hand would call in Tom.

"Great show again! I swear, I take back everything I ever said about you not doing Penny's trick. I've seen it a hundred times now and I still can't figure out how you pull it off. She would be so proud!" He patted Jacob on the back and led him to the elevator.

He pressed the button to lead him back to the stage and the awaiting fans wanting autographs and pictures with the famous illusionist.

"So, are you ever going to let me know the secret to that trick?" Tom asked, flashing his manager smile.

Jacob smirked at his reflection in the brass doors of the elevator. "I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you."